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Gretna Greens

If you’re having trouble finding a marriage record for your ancestors, take note of a term called “Gretna Green,” which could help you expand your search and finally break through that brick wall.

The Old Blacksmith Shop, Gretna Green, Scotland

The term “Gretna Green” comes from the name of a town that was close to the border of England and Scotland. When the marriage laws in England and Wales in the 1700s were stricter than those in Scotland, couples often went across the border to be married without the trouble of getting parents’ permission, publishing banns, getting a license, or having to be married in the church. In 1770 a toll road was constructed through the Scottish village of Gretna Green, providing quick and easy access to Scotland from further away than just across the border. The Old Blacksmith Shop became “the” place to be married, and the number of wedding ceremonies performed “over the anvil” grew through the years.

In the United States, the term Gretna Green has become synonymous with any town or county that will perform marriages for couples outside of their jurisdiction with looser regulations than their home town. Marriages are regulated by the states, so if a couple found their states’ requirements too stringent for their liking, they may have opted to travel to a town across the state border to take advantage of more favorable marriage laws. Today, Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada might come to mind in this light, but Gretna Greens have existed for many years throughout the country.

The Family Tree Wiki has a good starting list of United States Gretna Greens. Compare this list with where your ancestors lived and then search the marriage records in the Gretna Green town close by. If you can’t find anything here, look at a map and be creative. Did your ancestors live close to a county or state border? What town might your ancestors have gone to for a quick marriage? Keep searching and trying new ideas.


Sources: The Old Blacksmith Shop image courtesy Wikipedia:

Categories: Genealogy

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